Highlights from Higher Ed E-Expectations 2016

eduweb digital summit

I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at EduWeb Digital Summit in Denver from August 1-4. There were many great sessions focused on all things digital, including social media, analytics, website design and content management. One session I looked forward to attending was conducted by Stephanie Geyer from Ruffalo Noel Levitz and Lance Merker from OmniUpdate, who presented the latest findings from the 2016 E-Expectations Study. 

With more than 10 years since the first study was completed, the report gives great insight into the ever-changing digital habits and expectations of college-bound high school students by looking closely at how these expectations change between junior and senior year. Here are a few highlights from this year’s survey.


Approximately 70% of students surveyed consider the college website to be the most influential resource in terms of student interest. It’s seen as the best place to find answers to questions about the school and the quality of the school’s website makes a difference in the student’s perception of the college.

Not only does the site need to be useful, but it must be easy to find and attractive to search engines. More than 85% of respondents said they found a college website via a search engine. Optimizing the site for school name, programs and locations are key strategies. Consider paid interactive marketing campaigns to bring more users to your site who are ready to engage.


It’s a mobile world and it’s no surprise that high school students are some of the most mobile. The majority of students reported that their most recent college website visit was from a laptop or smartphone. Only 15%-17% reported using a desktop on their most recent visit to a college website. Mobile-friendly sites are also favored in search rankings. If your college or university site is not yet mobile-friendly, it’s time to make a plan. 

Today’s college-bound students are even using their phones to complete college online forms. This includes information request forms, cost calculators, campus visit registrations and applications. More than 70% of seniors have completed college enrollment forms on their mobile devices. 

If you are updating your site, make sure the forms are easy to find and mobile-friendly. Shorter forms are more likely to convert. Let visitors know how and when to expect a response with Thank You pages, and include links to additional resources or next steps. Lastly, don’t forget the importance of regularly testing these forms and reviewing your Thank You pages from a mobile device. It’s surprising how many forms don’t work or have a generic Thank You page that could be improved.


This may be surprising to some, but email is not dead for these students. Email was second only to the college website for influencing their interest. Students are reading and opening emails, but they’re doing so from their mobile devices, so responsive messages are appreciated. 

Also interesting to note: these students are open to receiving text messages from colleges, although most aren’t sending very many. They’re most open to receiving deadline reminders, app details and acceptance notifications via text.


Program information is important for SEO, because it’s often what students are most focused on. Both juniors and seniors value program content, including details on job placement statistics, program rankings, grad school placements stats, and testimonials. “Campus life” content was also highly ranked, following academics and program info. Most students want to find answers to their top questions on your site, so consider their questions when developing content, designing the user experience and even structuring on-site search. 


Besides info about programs, degrees, and academic, other topics students check out on college websites – Ruffalo Noel Levitz

When it came to imagery, there was a shift from location shots without people to more active, authentic photography that showed students engaged in campus life or academic activities. Photos are also tops for social posts.


The 5 Most Interesting Photos - Ruffalo Noel Levitz


College-bound high school students spend more time than ever on social media channels and, as a result, these channels play an important part in their exploration of your campus. YouTube is essential and Facebook usage increases as a student progresses from their junior to senior year. A large number of students are now using Snapchat and Instagram too. Social media continues to change quickly, so it’s important to stay on top of the trends. Select channels that support your particular markets and brand. Use social media to help students answer their questions of fit and value. Share content that delivers a sense of place through images, video and even live-streamed events. 


These were just a few highlights from this gold-standard research study. To learn more, check out these resources:

  • Karine Joly delivered a four-part series on HigherEdExperts.com. You can find her full series here
  • Visit Ruffalo Noel Levitz’s website to learn about upcoming webinar or conference presentations here.
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